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Monday, September 14, 2009

Is it President Obama's War?

No, of course it isn't.  As I have said before.

However, that doesn't stop Globe OpEd Columnist James Carroll from suggesting that.
The scale of President Obama’s military mistake is becoming clear exactly as the moment of his greatest opportunity to improve American life has arrived. The tragedy, as with Lyndon Johnson, will be the destruction of his proposed social transformation by his simultaneous opting for war, as his core supporters among liberals and Democrats feel bound to oppose him.
I think that Mr Carroll thinks that it is easy to dismount the tiger.  That is not the case.

Here is a sentence from the column:
Especially dangerous is the Taliban’s transformation by its war with America from a crackpot cult with local reach into a mythic resistance force drawing ever wider support.
The first problem with this sentence is that that crackpot cult provided a home for al Qaeda.  The reason we went into Afghanistan is that al Qaeda, operating under the protection of the Taliban, orchestrated the 9/11 attacks, and before that attacks on US facilities (including embassies) across the Middle East.

So, Question Number 1 is, if we pull out and the Taliban returns and al Qaeda goes back in and continues to make war on the US, is it OK for us to go back in and once again depose the Taliban to get to al Qaeda?

Not everyone in Iraq and Afghanistan is opposed to the US.  A lot of folks have supported the United States, in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  These are folks who ran for office as we tried to install democracy.  These are folks who served as interpreters.  These are folks who have done business with the US military.

So Question Number 2 is, if we pull out, will we offer these people who supported us the protection of the United States in the form of offering them refugee status in the US, leading to citizenship.

We have seduced people into doing some "Western" kinds of things, like girls going to school in Afghanistan.  Some have had acid thrown in their face for the crime/sin of going to school.

So Question Number 3 is, what is our moral obligation to those whose expectations we have stimulated.

Mr Carroll ends his article with this paragraph:
In citing Ted Kennedy last week, the president said that health reform is “above all a moral issue’’ involving “fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country.’’ But that exactly defines what is at stake in our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our troops being uselessly killed is a moral issue. That internecine violence among sects and factions a world away grows worse because of us is a moral issue. Obama has continued the Pottery Barn carelessness of his predecessors. For the sake of social justice, American character, and the hope of his own presidency, the time has come to stop it.
Mr Carroll uses the term "moral" three times in the sentence.

The fact is, there are moral issues at stake, but it isn't just about our soldiers (our including all the NATO troops who participate in these struggles), but about all sorts of moral commitments.

And, in talking in terms of saving the lives of US service members, Mr Carroll owes it to himself and to us to look down the road ask what happens if we pull out.  It isn't a single answer.  It is a series of answers and like the branches of a tree, it spreads out in different direction.
  • What happens to Afghanistan?
  • Where does al Qaeda go?
  • What happens in Pakistan?
  • What happens to the Pakistan Nucs?
  • How is India impacted?
  • Does it end up nuclear war in South Asia?
  • If the Taliban supports insurgents in China, how does China react?
  • What if there is another 9/11 event in the US or Canada or Mexico?
  • What about Islamist militant ties in Latin America?
  • What about terrorist ties to drug cartels?
The thing is, if one is going to suggest a change in strategy, one owes it to the reader to think through some of the long term implications.  Mr Carrll fails to do that.

Regards  —  Cliff

1 comment:

The New Englander said...

Your point about the way people in Iraq and Afghanistan feel about the U.S. is way more consistent with what most returning soldiers and reporters say than what Mr. Carroll is saying.

Essays like Mr. Carroll's seem to come from the "damned if you do, damned if don't" school, which simultaneously criticizes our massive screw-up after we won Charlie Wilson's War (ignoring the situation in that country) and prescribes what would be ANOTHER massive screw-up (pulling out all coalition soldiers and leaving their population to the whims of the Taliban).

Anytime someone presents a false choice between total U.S. disengagement and some type of in-your-face occupation, it's worth bringing up the Phillipines and Colombia.

I'm all for nuance here.

Anyone saying we should just pack up and leave Iraq or Afghanistan is about as nuanced and as reasonable as someone who sits on a Laz-E-Boy with a beer in one hand, remote control in the other, and waxes philosophical about "turning those countries into a giant parking lot."

Both are equally nuanced.

Both are equally stupid.